There is no official Thanksgiving in the United Kingdom. There is a Harvest Festival celebration here in October, but as a religious festival many people are unfortunately barely aware of it. It also focuses on the harvest, which of course benefits us all, but does not bring a broader attitude of gratitude into the mix. I think this is rather sad. In the modern world, assailed by advertising and the media, it’s easy to be swallowed up by the culture of “I want” where our day to day blessings are simply ignored. Without some sort of official corporate non-denominational celebration of gratitude for our blessings, there is a risk people rush discontented through their lives completely oblivious of all the things we have to be grateful for.
We are particularly guilty of this here in the UK at the moment. With the help and encouragement of the media, many of us embrace the negative and the gloomy, filling our children’s heads full of worries about an uncertain future. Even the teachers at my son’s college say things like ‘I don’t know how you will ever manage’, ‘It’s going to be nearly impossible to build a career in this economy’, ‘You’ll be saddled with debt for the rest of your life’ and ‘You will never be able to buy your own home’. I grew up in a very similar economic climate to today, and I beg to differ with those gloomy predictions. Our life is testament to the fact that you can create your own experience, despite what is happening around you . I worry that if our young people hear these things repeated over and over, they will come to believe them, and what we believe shapes our whole experience. Gratitude is one of the most important things we can teach our children.
As someone who firmly believes that gratitude is the key to abundance, one thing I know for sure is that even during the darkest times of my life, I have had many, many things to be grateful for. I have so enjoyed reading the tweets and Facebook posts over the last few days, in which people have listed things they are grateful for. It’s a wonderful thing to do. Whatever your religious beliefs, being grateful for your blessings is incredibly important. And while bad things happen to everyone, oh my, we are blessed. Our country is not at war. Most of us have enough to eat. We have places to live. Water comes out of the tap. Light is available at the flick of a switch. It may be expensive, but we can buy food easily in the supermarkets and there are no food shortages. We live in relative safety, with police, a fire service, and hospitals available to us. We have the right to believe and say what we want, and we are free to worship as we choose. Most of us have not been victims of a natural disaster. I could go on and on.
We have always kept Canadian Thanksgiving in October at our house. Although I am a naturalised British citizen, and have lived here more than half my life, I am Canadian by birth and enjoy keeping my family’s traditions. We also happily celebrate American Thanksgiving in November, although not on quite as large a scale. Being a Thursday (and not a holiday) makes it difficult to orchestrate a full Thanksgiving dinner here, but we do mark the occasion. Tonight I will serve chicken breasts, gravy, cranberry sauce, stuffing, potatoes, lots of vegetables, and of course, pumpkin pie. We will say a heartfelt prayer of thanks for our blessings, and pray for others who are not so fortunate all over the world.
Giving thanks for our blessings is something we do every day in our house, but Thanksgiving lends it a special poignancy. The theologian Meister Eckhart (c. 1260 – 1327) is quoted as saying “If the only prayer you ever say in your entire life is ‘thank you’, it will be enough.” Even if one is not religious, it is hard not to agree that gratitude is important.
Retailers have begun to jump on the Black Friday bandwagon here. Although this is a very commercial introduction and I confess I would prefer an October celebration, I keep hoping that people might be drawn to the idea of the Thanksgiving Day that precedes it. We definitely need something here to focus people’s attention to the positive, to encourage a corporate celebration of our blessings and to increase optimism. Celebrating an official Thanksgiving Day would be an incredibly positive addition to our culture here in the UK.
Wishing everyone who is celebrating a very Happy Thanksgiving!